As Jews in the uber-hospitable Goldeneh Golus of the USA and many other post-modern western democracies we are, for the most part, unconscious of just what tiny ephemeral blips on the historical screens we are. Our historical myopia leaves us blind to many of the "default settings" of the Golus experience. We know little of the "Gulis Yids" trials, tribulations and (the point of this post) survival mechanisms and, on a visceral level, we feel these even less.
We live under the aegis of a Constitution that has erected a high and impregnable wall between church and state. In the tolerant society that has, forgive the expression, evolved under this document everyone is more or less, allowed to do their own thing unmolested. Over the last several decades we've evolved to a point where very few people insinuate themselves into their neighbors religious beliefs and practices, much less pressure them to convert to their own. Other than slamming our doors in the face of the occasional stray Mormon or J-Witness door-to-door missionary the most severe proselytizing most of us have ever had to experience was at the hands of a Lubavitcher or Schicknik Breslover. Even those encounters are throw-it-back-in-their-faces-and-live-to-tell-the-tale mild.
But it was not always so. There were too many Golus episodes to recount when Jews were faced with the stark choices of either adopting Paganism, X-tianity or Islam or suffering expulsion, ghettoization and/or death. Even when shmad and public disputations were not the active policy of the Church-State governmental authorities there was an ongoing ambiance of oppression expressed in confiscatory taxation, blood-libels and exclusion from universities, guilds and land-ownership. The Goyim always provided the Gulis Yid with plenty of both carrot and stick incentives to drop their Yiddishkeit and adopt the dominant religion.
Among the Gulis Yids survival mechanisms was an ingrained, hard-boiled, skeptical, snarky cynicism about the fundamentals of the dominant religion. Deep in the marrow of their bones the Gulis Yid recognized the Big Lie of the dominant religion. This bone-marrow sensibility lent him/her the strength to withstand both the fear of punishment inherent in rejection and the love of reward concomitant with accepting the dominant religion. After all, conversion was tantamount to living a lie and actively participating in a farce for a lifetime.
Whereas contemporary frum Jews are, in the main, ignorant of the fundamental concepts of X-tianity and Islam, the historical Gulis Yid was well aware of them and, among their own, mocked them mercilessly in the spirit of "כל ליצנותא אסירא בר מליצנותא דעבודה זרה" = "All jesting is forbidden except that which mocks idolatry."
Such delicious facetious Yiddishisms as נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען =" it doesn't rise and it doesn't fly" grabs the X-tian belief in Jesus YM"S alleged resurrection and ascent to heaven by the lapels and pokes it in the eye. רייד מיך נישט איין א קינד אין בויך אריין = "Don't try to talk a child into my belly" gives lie to the X-tian belief in virgin conception and birth. As the Rambam referred to Muhammad as a Mishiginer I am certain that there are cognates for these witticisms in Ladino or other Sepahrdic lingua francas that savage the Iqarei haDat of Islam . (I would much appreciate if any readers familiar with them would relate them in the comment thread.) Until the mid nineteenth century most Jews lived in homogeneous communities in which almost all Jewish residents practiced the same kind of Judaism. As all Jews held the same deeply cherished beliefs it would hardly occur to any of the Jewish snarkmeisters to mock the fundamentals of faith of another Jew.
Enter massive immigrations from all over the Jewish world to North America and pre-state Palestine, the dislocations and upheavals of two World Wars, the Holocaust, the rise of the State of Israel, The Kiruv Movement, the liberation of Soviet Jewry etc. Now you've got heterogeneous communities in which Jewish residents practicing many kinds of Judaism predicated on diverse fundamentals live cheek-by-jowl with one another. As these Jews hold of assorted deeply cherished beliefs, a few of which are mutually exclusive, is it really surprising that the Jewish snarkmeisters would now begin training their mockery sniper-scopes on the fundamentals of faith of other Jews?
Something akin to this has always been the difference between monotheists and atheists. It's not that all committed monotheists are Hofferian True Believers. Having rejected and repudiated every religion but their own most monotheists are also great scoffers and skeptics. An atheist merely believes in one god fewer than a monotheist does.
IMO a good part of the rancor and divisiveness of Kharedi/ Ortho Judaism derives from our innate national/ cultural iconoclasm and skepticism. While this skepticism helped us survive as Jews through a long blood and tear soaked exile it's not a faucet that we can turn on and off at will. We spent millenia as a minority religion and honed our scoffing/ skepticism stilettos to a sharp, hard, serrated edge. Once unsheathed it's hard to put the blade back in it's scabbard. And now that the X-tian menace has mostly vanished, we have no problem turning it on one another.
This is why there is precious little intra-Jewish ecumenism. Most Jews who are not themselves MO, RWMO, LWMO, Young Israel, Chofetz Chaim, Kharedi, Khardal, Khavakuk, Yeshivish, Brisk, Satmar, Lubavitch , Ger, Belz, Yerushalmi, Chazon Ish-nik, Breslov, Sha"s, TIDE-Yekkish,Vizhnitz, Slonim, Stolin et al feel very strongly that adherents of the above mentioned stripes-in-the-spectrum have completely missed the boat, are krum as pretzels and in some cases down-right apikorsish.
What was once a purely defensive weapon has now become an instrument of offense, division, control, vituperation and marginalization. The revolution in Jewish demographics and migratory patterns, like Saturn, devours its own children.
The Satmar Rebbe ZY"A was down on Chasidus, pronouncing it a forgotten art. (Apparently he viewed himself more as a Kehila builder a la Rav Breuer rather than as a Chasidic master). He once quipped to the Square Rebbe ZY"A "We're not so different you and I. We are really very close. It's just that I believe in one Rebbe fewer than you do." That is to say, none at all. As for humble me, I believe in one anti-Zionist, Chasidus-bashing ideologue fewer than the Satmar Rebbe ZY"A i.e. I am an agnostic about the one that he ZY"A believed in.
While I usually rail against anyone and anything that glosses over the הבדלה בין ישראל לעמים to ameliorate the societal problem described here I think that it would be worthwhile to practice a little ויתערבו בגויים וילמדו ממעשיהם . The dominant culture today does not merely tolerate Jews well, it tolerates everyone well. It glosses over differences and emphasizes that we are one big happy family of man, that there are many more points that we have in common than there are dividing us, that everyones beliefs are worthy of respect and dignity, that no one has an exclusive patent on the one and only truth.
Growing savvy to our unique place in the history of the Diaspora wouldn't we be wise to co-opt these attitudes and retrofit them to Jewish specs? I have a dream that one day my children, big and little, will live in a Jewry that does not merely tolerate other Jews in identical garb well, but tolerates ALL Shomrei Mitzvah well. A Jewry that glosses over differences and emphasizes that we are one big happy family of the Avos and Imahos, that there are many more points that we have in common than there are dividing us, that everyones shitos, deos and minhogim are worthy of respect and dignity, that no one derekh has an exclusive patent on the one and only truth.
Who knows maybe to do so would be some kind of העלת ניצוצות and יתוסף עליהם גרים.
Qedusha-Havdala...Have you glossed over YOURS today??? Hmmm???